NYC’s outrageous failure to offer decent public-school options

Dorothy S. Bass

It’s the ultimate admission of failure when teachers at your kids’ public school tell you that if you want better for your child, you need to go somewhere else. And it’s the ultimate disgrace when the mayor is using his power over the schools to . . . give you fewer places to flee to.

But that’s the reality in Queens’ District 29, where fed-up parents are organizing to demand better of the city Department of Education. The area’s a stronghold of the city’s black middle class, but in 2019 (pre-COVID), only 37 percent of its black students in grades 3-8 could pass the state English exam, and even fewer, 28 percent, passed the state math test.

The DOE pretends the district’s problems are rooted in a lack of resources, but it spends more than $25,000 per student — far more than other area schools that deliver better results, but aren’t DOE-run.

Unsurprisingly, District 29 enrollment has plummeted 12.6 percent since 2016-17, as parents find other solutions. Teachers at a school in Cambria Heights outright told one mother that the only way she could help her son succeed was to get him into another school.

Another mom, Judith Nephew, decided to pull her son out of PS 52 in Jamaica, where 73 percent of students fail the state math exam and 67 percent fail the English assessment. The boy won the lottery for a spot at Success Academy and quickly went from a third-grader who couldn’t read to being one of the best readers in his class.

Yet Mayor Bill de Blasio and his DOE have done all they can to smother charter-school growth, and especially to stomp on the Success network.

At least some politicians are paying attention: The area’s state senator, Democrat Leroy Comrie, writes: “The DOE is again offering to listen, but the time for listening has passed. . . . It is time for the DOE to come to the community not with open ears, but rather a strategic blueprint for how to turn District 29 around and a team of tested individuals who can lead the charge.”

Queens elected officials already played a key role in pushing de Blasio to finally give Success a permanent home for its new middle school in the area, when hundreds of kids were at risk of being forced back into the failing DOE system. With parents now up in arms, these politicians will be pushing harder for action on all fronts, including Comrie’s demand for a serious plan.

Are de Blasio and Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter listening? By all rights, they should produce the plan Comrie wants long before the next mayor takes over Jan. 1. With children’s future at stake, there’s no excuse for waiting.

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